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How to design the multiple worlds and themes of Venus in Fur

Posted by on 2 February 2015 | | 0 Comments

 

Set designer Patrick Howe and I met over coffee and wines and tested out new and exciting bars and cafes in Perth to discuss and dissect the worlds of Venus in Fur. The whole process was dynamic, colourful, exciting and a pleasure, as Patrick is truly passionate about design and the play is full of passion and stuffed with ideas, motifs and references.
The character of VANDA drives the play but it is THOMAS'S journey. There is also a push me pull you energy throughout. First we spoke of revolves. Which was tempting but not suitable for budget or time. We discussed that the space could be quite small and in reality the whole play could take place on a pin head as the two characters do-si-do around each other. The text allows for a lot of interpretation and could be done in blacks in a bare space but it also allows for a full all-encompassing sensory experience with punch. It wasn't difficult for Patrick and I to agree to go for the second option. By the end of our first meets we knew we wanted it to be an exciting space with anachronistic play, voyeuristic, a platform for the battle of the sexes referencing the world of theatre framed by a cold dark sense of the masochistic fantasy and the cruel world of love.
Yep. Patrick satisfied all of this.
TWO SETTINGS – texture, shape and dressings
1. CONTEMPORARY NEW YORK STUDIO / 2. AUSTRO HUNGARIAN EMPIRE - 1870
Patrick researched images of New York buildings and studios where great worlds are created in small and interesting spaces. Usually large decorative windows and wooden floors dominate in well used spaces. The mix of the furniture – the purpose designed make shift trestle style table found in studios with mixed sourced furniture which reflected the romantic nostalgic fantasy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and New York style all came together beautifully.
The neutral colours in the set and textured worn finishes that Patrick chose, served both these worlds.
THE ART OF THEATRE
THE GREEKS - Ancient roots of theatre and morality.
One of the attractions was the theatricality of the piece and how the play sat within a play.
Theatre within a theatre. Our theatre began with the Ancient Greeks. The Roman goddess of love, Venus, is in the title and her equivalent is Aphrodite in Greek mythology, so it seemed important to reference these beginnings. Also considering that in the play the character THOMAS describes his play Venus in Fur as the ancient Greek play The Bacchae (which is a play that shows the clash of the civilised and the primitive that humans are continually trying to balance) 
You can see this in the column-like back wall.
THE SURREAL WORLD OF LOVE and EMOTION
SEXUAL TENSION / DESIRE / PASSION/ LOVE and POWER
Love is a madness and romantic love is potentially something that we as humans project on to others, only to be disappointed that our object of desire is not what we imagined for ourselves.
Brett Smith's sound designs brief was to really work with the surreal and the sexual. His sound designs and effects are like distant billows that travel through and around the space of the stage and the theatre. He created romance with strings and added twists and turns culminating in a primitive primal beat. Joe Lui's magical lighting design played with fantasy and the psychotic nature of the piece and supported the masochistic world of anticipation and role play.
These elements were all able to be achieved in the challenging and elegant space that Patrick created. His idea of a slice of a floating world with a ceiling piece was brave, bold and magnificent.
He created a platform/stadium for the battle of the sexes and created something that could be both intimate and epic, all the time highlighting and complementing the studio space and the world of the theatrical. It was a brilliant solution and a perfect stage to work with and on and provided the ideal actor/audience relationship. 

Director Lawrie Cullen-Tait has brought Venus in Fur to life in an incredible production in the Studio Underground. Receiving rave reviews and sell out performances, all elements of the production have come together seemlessly, from the acting to the set to the costume, lighting and sound. Here we hear from Laurie about the design, partcularly the set design, and the multiple worlds that evolve in Venus in Fur